That’s right, $2 million dollars, no mistake in the number of zeros involved.
Several media sources are reporting that Elizabeth Sichler of Harveys Lake, Pennsylvania, a paralegal by training and former title search company owner, has been charged
by the U.S. Secret Service with the alleged theft of $2 million dollars in a Ponzi scheme conducted over a four-year period. She’s also accused of stealing several thousand dollars from her own daughter’s bank account.
If Sichler admits to or is found guilty of all or part of the charges, she will have engaged in, to say the least, conduct unbecoming of the paralegal profession – and of anyone else in a position of financial trust.
The part that makes me most crazy about these kind of stories is that they usually involve highly intelligent, personable people who could have been successful and productive by using their considerable talents for legitimate business purposes, instead of directing them to the pursuit of ill-gotten gains.
In this case, Sichler was a well-respected person in her community, until the scandal became public in 2008. She was the vice chair of the local Republican Party, and she had worked in the title insurance business since 1994, owning the majority share of her company, Priority Search, Inc., since 2001.
Now Sichler stands accused of serious federal crimes and outrageous ethical violations, including not paying off sellers’ outstanding mortgages with funds in hand, stealing money from escrow accounts, failing to use premiums to purchase title insurance policies, lying about disbursement of funds, neglecting to file critical property transaction documents, and even forging documents to gain access to her own daughter’s checking account.
Worst of all, many of the people Sichler was supposed to be helping were hurt financially and emotionally, left with multiple mortgages
on old and new homes, ruined credit ratings, questionable property titles, and mounting legal fees to sort out the mess. Many were everyday working people like you and me, with their modest assets tied up in their homes. Selling a home to buy a new one should have been a milestone in their lives.
A paralegal education is not intended to cause harm, or to give anyone the skills to turn legitimate real property transactions into repeated opportunities for theft. In fact, a paralegal education is geared to teach students how to uphold the letter of the law, protect the parties our supervising attorneys represent, and become an effective part of our justice system. I hope the ethics portion of any paralegal program uses current news stories like this one to emphasize that proof of abuse of the legal system has very serious consequences, including long prison terms, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines – and a loss of trust by friends, family and colleagues which will have adverse consequences for the rest of your life.